"I Choose To Be The Best That I Can Be"
“A new song by Jason Robert Brown.” Seven words that will excite any contemporary musical theatre fan. The inclusion of this new song – “There With You” – on the debut EP by Natalie Weiss will no doubt induce people to buy the album. It’s worth it for that song alone, but the entire album is a pleasant treat, a great way to start off the new year.
Natalie Weiss is a 25 year old who has been an Internet sensation for a few years. Her “break” came with a performance of “And I Am Telling You” (from Dreamgirls) uploaded on YouTube, and has been viewed almost 220,000 times. The other uploads on her YouTube channel have been seen upwards of 325,000 times.
She is becoming well known in musical theatre circles, too, having previously been in the 2nd national touring company of Wicked and as an understudy in Everyday Rapture on Broadway; she’s currently performing with the 25th anniversary tour of Les Miserables. She was a semifinalist in the 4th season of American Idol, and her previous successes and the release of this album add her name to the list of those Idol contestants who are more successful than the eventual winners.
Ms Weiss has a playful, energetic spirit. (Her online resume says that she “can sing flat or sharp upon request.”) This energy comes across readily in the eclectic mix of pop songs that comprise the EP. Each track has a buoyant quality, thanks in part to Matt Hinkley’s music direction. The album begs to be sung-along with; it would be a perfect road trip album, if only it were a little longer.
The EP opens with a spirited “More to Life,” giving a good preview of what the entire album will be like. It unfortunately ends abruptly, though, as if they ran out of tape in the recording studio. “Astonishing” is the Act I finale from the 2005 Broadway musical Little Women. Originally an opportunity for the character of Jo to belt out her life ambitions, the song works remarkably well outside the context of the show in this pared-down acoustic version.
As lesser-known track from Katy Perry’s first album (“Mannequin”) follows, leading to “Only Hope.” Originally by Switchfoot, it’s perhaps best known from the movie A Walk to Remember, in a performance by Mandy Moore. Ms Weiss pulls off a more optimistic version, with a great groove, and is nowhere near as pleading and desperate sounding as Ms Moore.
An older, almost forgotten Boyz II Men song (“Water Runs Dry”) receives another solid performance, but seems dated compared to the other material. It’s the one low spot on the album – but more of a dip than a valley. Ms Weiss quickly recovers, though, in “I Choose,” a funky, danceable cover of an India.Arie song.
“There With You” has many trademarks of a Jason Robert Brown pop/rock song, and will undoubtedly be heard at many auditions and variety shows in the future. It will be a disappointment to some that Mr Brown’s presence isn’t larger on this track, but he was wise to let Ms Weiss keep the vocal spotlight. His songs are notoriously difficult, and Ms Weiss handles the material with the ease of a veteran singer twice her age.
Ms Weiss’ debut EP is fine album by an exciting up and coming singer. The album doesn’t portend to give any innovative approaches to the music, but it does provide the listener with an enjoyable – albeit short – time. As Ms Weiss sings in “Astonishing,” her great adventure has begun, and we’re fortunate to be joining her on this part of the journey.